Healthy fall comfort foods

Sep 2, 2009 at 4:43 p.m. ET

With the end of summer comes cooler temperatures, colorful leaves and a fresh new bounty of fruits and vegetables. As the weather cools, it's also tempting to dish yourself up some warming comfort foods with no worry about the dietary consequences (think mac 'n cheese, or your mom's tuna casserole). Opting, instead, for the fall harvest of fresh fruits and veggies can keep you warm and cozy on the inside without destroying your diet. Here are some wholesome comfort foods that will keep you full and even curb your indulgent comfort food cravings.

Vegetable Chicken Soup

The key to filling, healthy comfort foods

"Healthy foods are those that are packed with vitamins, minerals and protein," explains Penny Kendal-Reed a naturopathic doctor who penned The No Crave Diet and founder of the Penny Protein Plan, a guide to getting your protein, watching your weight and fighting off food cravings.

Comfort foods are aptly named; they give you that satisfying, comforting feeling after you eat them. A key way to ward off your comfort food cravings for less than healthy fare is by eating a balanced diet of foods that give you a sustained full feeling. This will keep you from being tempted to munch so much. And the fall harvest is filled with foods that will keep your hunger healthfully at bay.

"Foods that make you feel full longer are those that provide protein to stabilize blood sugars and slow down the delivery of sugar into the blood and those that are high in fiber," explains Kendal-Reed. "High fiber foods stretch the stomach receptors, sending a message to the brain that stimulates the satiety center to tell you that you're full." The diet expert says there are a number of fall foods that combine healthful nutrients and that warm, comforting feeling.

Kendel-Reed's top healthy comfort food picks:

  • Chicken vegetable soup with squash, carrots, beets, onions and peas. Nothing says comfort like a bowl of hot soup on a cool day.
  • Beets are a root vegetable with a naturally sweet flavor -- perfect for when you crave a sweeter comfort food. Try roasting beets in the oven for extra sweetness.
  • Shepherds' pie with ground turkey (it's leaner than beef!) and mashed cauliflower on top (healthier and more nutritious than mashed potatoes) is ideal for when you want a cozy hot casserole. Mix in peas, turnips and carrots for extra healthy heartiness.
  • Fruits, such as peaches, nectarines, plums and apples all make great fruit crumbles topped with a bit of brown sugar and fiber-rich oats. The warm, gooey baked fruit is comforting and healthy if you watch the sugar.
  • An egg white frittata with seasonal fall vegetables like baby squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, smoked salmon and cheese gives a satisfying start to the morning. 
  • As a treat or a snack, try a bran muffin made with shredded carrots, or nibble on a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie square.
  • Hot chocolate made with chocolate whey protein powder and warm 1% low-fat milk is a tasty protein-rich way to warm the belly on those cool fall days. 

Tips to curb cravings

How often have you indulged your comfort food craving only to have another food craving 30 minutes later? Kendell-Reed suggests satisfying your comfort food needs with healthy foods that will stimulate your taste buds and fill the satiety center in the brain so you aren't hungry for more a short while later.

Curb your comfort food cravings with these healthy sips and nibbles:

  • Foods to satisfy a sweet tooth include a chocolate or vanilla protein shake, or mixed nuts with a bit of dried fruit, or fall's fresh fruit, including apples, apricots, peaches and cranberries.
  • Foods to satisfy savory or cheesy food cravings include cottage cheese with berries and cinnamon (a favorite fall spice), or ricotta cheese with salsa and vegetables warmed in the oven as a dip for corn chips.
  • Foods to satisfy salt cravings include vegetables and hummus, salted almonds, or feta with sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Foods to satisfy the need for something spicy include salsa blended with soft tofu as a dip for vegetable sticks or a Cajun or Tandoori chicken skewer.

Fall's cooler climate naturally invokes the need for warm and cozy comfort foods. Combining lean proteins with the season's healthy harvest of fruits and vegetables can satisfy your need for filling, satisfying fare without forsaking your healthy diet.

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